If you were wondering which grid to get, Launchpad Pro MK3 is now a pretty easy answer. New firmware sweetens the deal for the one 8×8 grid that also runs standalone – no computer needed.
Back to the ground-breaking monome that launched the trend, 8×8 grid controllers have been tethered to the computer. The “Pro” in the Launchpad Pro signals two things. One, this is the flagship from Novation with the most features and expression, including when it’s plugged into a computer. Two, you can use it with MIDI gear and skip the computer entirely.
Two generations of Launchpad Pro took a decent stab at the idea, but the first model lacked the svelte mobility of the rest of the line, and they weren’t as useful when the computer wasn’t around.
Then came the MK3, and it’s been pretty close to perfect. You can jam on pads, you can play chords and scales (which helps given that even pianists didn’t learn on a … square). You can customize layouts. You can launch clips. And there are MIDI in, out, and out2/thru (with minijacks) for use with your hardware – which now includes a 32-step polyphonic step sequencer.
A lot of people will use this with Ableton Live, and the Launchpad excels as far as integration there. But the appeal is that it’s both that and a controller for everything else, hardware included. You also get pressure sensitivity on the pads, so it’s useful for playing synths and not just triggering clips or programming steps.
So that leaves fairly few complaints – and v1.2 solves some of the bigger ones.
Hold down Shift and press Record Quantize, and you record unquantized beats. It’s not fully unquantized – these are recorded to Micro Steps. But that itself is frankly kind of interesting, as it sets apart rhythms recorded on the Launchpad – and including with external gear and no computer / DAWless setups. (I’m no DAWless nut, obviously, but this is useful even to me.)
Set threshold of trigger pads. Most people will likely stick to defaults, but this isn’t a bad feature to have. (My recollection is that Novation’s Circuit was the first to do this, and people used it.)
Legacy Mode. There actually were a lot of cool hacks and mods for the original Launchpad Pro, and the otherwise very cool MK3 broke that. They’re back, with the backwards-compatible User layout you need to run them.
All in all, this rounds out the Launchpad Pro in such a way that it easily rises to the top of the recommendation list. (See also Arturia’s KeyStep Pro if you want sequencing and you prefer a keyboard, or BeatStep Pro with the same idea but pads, or mix and match, even. Those two also do CV; Launchpad Pro is focused on MIDI. They all work standalone.)
The news item on the Novation blog also comes with a free Ableton session to try out:
And now is a good time to mention I wrote a guide with a free download that lets you modify the Launchpad Pro MK3 (and other Launchpads) using Pure Data:
Part 1: Hack What You Want For Making Music
Part 2: Create Your Own r_cycle Instrument